Debate Magazine

Chris Rock

By Stevemiranda

I’m reading an awesome book right now called Little Bets, by Peter Sims. He starts out by telling the story of comedian Chris Rock.

When writing new material, Rock will find a small comedy club, bring a notepad on stage, and try out different ideas for jokes. Sims writes,

In sets that run around forty-five minutes, most of the jokes fall flat. His early performances can be painful to watch. Jokes will ramble, he’ll lose his train of thought and need to refer to his notes, and some audience members sit with their arms folded, noticeably unimpressed. The audience will laugh about his flops—laughing at him, not with him. Often Rock will pause and say, “This needs to be fleshed out more if it’s gonna make it,” before scribbling some notes. He may think he has come up with the best joke ever, but if it keeps missing with audiences, that becomes his reality. Other times, a joke he thought would be a dud will bring the house down. According to fellow comedian Matt Ruby, “There are five to ten lines during the night that are just ridiculously good. Like lightning bolts. My sense is that he starts with these bolts and then writes around them.”

Essentially, Rock is using the time on stage to learn.

We do kids a disservice by creating schools in which the greatest value is in knowing the right answer. The best way to learn is to take risks, try to new things, reflect on the times you fail, and then . . . try again. For his most recent tour, Rock prepared by getting on stage in a little comedy club in New Brunswick, NJ between forty and fifty nights.

It’s a great way to get better, and a powerful strategy for learning. For kids in schools, however, it’s very hard to do in the presence of a teacher whose job requires her to give you a bad grade if you fail too many times.

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